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Sterner v. Titus Transportation, LP

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 12, 2013

EDWARD STERNER and his wife, LINDA WOOD, Plaintiffs,
v.
TITUS TRANSPORTATION, LP d/b/a AIR RIDE TRANSPORT, and ROGER L. ROBERTSON, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendants Titus Transportation, LP d/b/a Air Ride Transport ("Air Ride Transport") and Roger L. Robertson's ("Robertson") (collectively, "Defendants") Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. 24.) Defendants seek judgment on the pleadings on Plaintiffs' punitive damages claims and on the direct negligence claims asserted against Air Ride Transport. Defendants also request that Plaintiffs be precluded from engaging in corporate discovery in this action. Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part. Because Air Ride Transport has admitted that Robertson was its employee acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the events relevant to this litigation, and because Plaintiffs do not have viable punitive damages claims, Defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings will be granted regarding the claims for punitive damages against both Defendants and the direct negligence claims against Air Ride Transport. However, because Defendants' request to prevent Plaintiffs from engaging in corporate discovery is based on an anticipated discovery dispute that has yet to materialize, that aspect of Defendants' motion will be denied without prejudice.

I. Background

Plaintiffs Edward Sterner ("Sterner") and his wife Linda Wood ("Wood) allege that on December 24, 2008, at approximately 4:00 p.m., Sterner was proceeding northbound on Route I-81 in Pennsylvania while operating a 2007 Sterling tractor trailer. ( Id. at ¶ 10.) Due to icy conditions, Sterner pulled his vehicle to the shoulder of the road. Other tractor trailers pulled over behind Sterner's vehicle. ( Id. at ¶¶ 11-12.) Thereafter, Robertson pulled his tractor trailer out from behind Sterner's vehicle. Robertson lost control of the tractor trailer, and he caused the vehicle to jackknife and strike Sterner's tractor trailer. ( Id. at ¶¶ 13-15.)

Based on the foregoing, Plaintiffs commenced this action against Defendants on September 30, 2010. The Complaint alleges that Robertson was an "agent, servant, and/or employee of Defendant Titus Transportation, LP d/b/a Air Ride Transport." ( Id. at ¶ 4.) Against Robertson, Sterner asserts claims for negligence (Count One) and punitive damages (Count Five), while Wood asserts a loss of consortium claim (Count Two). Against Air Ride Transport, Sterner asserts claims for vicarious liability and corporate negligence (including negligent entrustment, instruction, supervision, and monitoring) (Count Three) and punitive damages (Count Six), and Wood asserts a claim for loss of consortium (Count Four).

On November 17, 2010, Defendants filed an Answer to Plaintiffs' Complaint, Affirmative Defenses, and Demand for Jury Trial. ( Answer. ) In their Answer, Defendants "admitted only that Defendant Roger Robertson was an employee of Titus Transportation, LP d/b/a Air Ride Transport on December 24, 2008." ( Id. at ¶ 4.) Defendants also admitted that "Roger Robertson was operating a tractor-trailer owned by Defendant Titus Transportation, LP d/b/a Air Ride Transport." ( Id. )

On October 10, 2011, Titus Transportation, LP filed a Suggestion of Bankruptcy (Doc. 13), and this action was stayed on October 12, 2011. (Doc. 14.)

On January 29, 2013, Defendants, with Plaintiffs' concurrence, filed a Motion to Lift the October 12, 2011 Stay. (Doc. 16.) Attached to Defendants' motion was an Order from the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Texas granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Relief from Plan Injunction to Permit Continuation of Litigation up to the Limits of Applicable Insurance Coverage. ( Id. at Ex. A.) The Order permits Plaintiffs to continue this action, and Plaintiffs can recover, if successful, up to the applicable insurance coverage of Defendant Titus Transportation, LP, in the amount of $999, 890.00. ( Id. ) The Order also provides that Plaintiffs shall not seek punitive damages in this action. ( Id. ) The motion to lift the stay was granted on January 30, 2013, and the case was reopened. (Doc. 17.) A Case Management Conference was subsequently held on September 12, 2013.

On October 15, 2013, Defendants filed the instant motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 24.) Defendants seek judgment on Plaintiffs' direct negligence claims, i.e., the claims for negligent entrustment, instruction, supervision, monitoring, and hiring, against Air Ride Transport. Defendants also request judgment on the punitive damages claims asserted against both Defendants. Lastly, Defendants seek to preclude Plaintiffs from engaging in corporate discovery.

Plaintiffs filed a brief in opposition to Defendants' motion on November 8, 2013, (Doc. 29), and, on November 21, 2013, Defendants filed a reply brief in further support of their motion. (Doc. 30.) Defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings is now ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) allows a party to move for judgment "[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate "if the movant clearly establishes there are no material issues of fact, and he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Sikirika v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 214, 220 (3d Cir. 2005). "A material issue of fact that will prevent a motion under Rule 12(c) from being successful may be framed by an express conflict on a particular point between the parties' respective pleadings. It also may result from the defendant pleading new matter and affirmative defenses in his answer." Charles Alan Wright and Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1367. In determining a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a court considers "the pleadings and attached exhibits, undisputedly authentic documents attached to the motion for judgment on the pleadings if plaintiffs' claims are based on the documents, and matters of public record." Atiyeh v. Nat'l ...


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